Ice cream may cause cancer. That's an absolute fact because the word may is so incredibly wimpy that it can always be used to make sensational, yet meaningless claims.
Ice cream may indeed cause cancer because it's never been proven with absolute certainty that it doesn't. Therefore, it may. But why bother printing it? Why make a headline stating the obvious? The answer, quite simply, is because it works. People fall for it all the time. The fact that you are reading this rant right now proves it.
The word may is a loophole that anyone can drive a truck through and the news media uses that loophole all the time when they have nothing substantial to say. It's amazing how often they do it. Try googling "may cause" and see for yourself.
One news site, trying to generate a little more traffic, used this headline.
On reading the article, I found that there is a 1 in 10,000 chance that a large asteroid could hit the earth within the next 500 years. Why not just go all out and print this?
Who can prove that it definitely won't?
That headline will probably be written in the near future as the corporate media continue to throw away the little bit of credibility they pretend to have left.
Articles containing the word may in their headlines seldom live up to what the headline implies. It's as if newspapers hire lawyers to write their headlines, lawyers who just barely follow the letter of the law, who imply without outright lying.
A few months ago I read an article with this headline - "Mars May Contain Life." The gist of the article was that there was water on the planet Mars. That's all they knew for sure, but since life needs water, there might be life on mars. An honest headline for that article would have been - "Water discovered on Mars." I felt cheated, I was hoping to learn about evidence of bacteria on Mars, but was tricked into reading an article that wasn't half as interesting as the headline implied.
Probably is a much better word, but for some reason seldom used. That's unfortunate because that word atually says something. There is a big difference between the following two statements. Mars probably contains life. Mars may contain life. The first sentence is likely to begin an article worth reading, where the second sentence is just a meaningless use of words.
I admit to have fallen for the trick more than once, but never will again. If the writer doesn't have enough faith in the subject to use the word probably in its headline, then the article is likely a waste of time and I won't bother to read it.
Ever since being burned on the "Mars May Contain Life" headline, I react to headlines containing the word may in a new way. Whenever I see that word, I tell myself - "Ice cream may cause cancer," and then I just move along. - COB
There will be a new post every... Oh I don't know. Let's say every two weeks.